Theodore Roosevelt.

The naval war of 1812; or, The history of the United States navy during the last war with Great Britain, to which is appended an account of the battle of New Orleans; online

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York, 1864.

Thornton, Col. W. Letter, January 8, 18 15.






Strictness of the blockade — Cruise of Rodgers — Cruise of
the Constitution — Chased into Marblehead — Attempt to cut
out the Alligator — The Essex captured after an engagement
with Phcebe and Cherub — The Frolic captured — -The Peacock
captures the Epervier — Coinmodore Barney's flotilla afloat
— The British in the Chesapeake — Capture of Washington,
and burning of the public buildings — The Wasp captures
the Reindeer — The Wasp sinks the Avon — Cruise and loss of
the Adams — The privateer General Armstrong — The privateer
Prince de Neiifchdtel— Loss of the gunboats on Lake Borgne
— Fighting near New Orleans — -Summary 1-85




Ontario — The contest one of ship-building merely —
Statistics of the two squadrons — Serious sickness among the
Americans — Extreme caution of the commanders, verging
on timidity — Yeo takes Oswego and blockades Sackett's
Harbor — British gunboats captured — Chauncy blockades
Kingston. — Erie — Captain Sinclair burns St. Joseph —
Makes unsuccessful expedition against Mackinaw — Daring

vl Contents

and successful cutting-out expeditions of the British — Cap-
ture of the Ohio and Somers. — Champlain — ^Macdonough's
and Downie's squadrons — ^James's erroneous statements con-
cerning them — Gallant engagement and splendid victory of
Macdonough— Macdonough one of the greatest of American
sea-captains 86-143





The President captured by Captain Hayes's squadron —
Successful cutting-out expedition of the Americans — Ameri-
can pri\ateer Chasseur captures St. Lawrence — The Consti-
tution engages the Cyane and the Levant and captures both —
Escapes from a British squadron — ^The Hornet captures the
Penguin and escapes froin pursuit of the Corniuallis — The
Peacock's wanton attack on the Nautilus — Wanton attack on
American gtmboat after treaty of peace— Summary of events
in 1 81 5 — Remarks on the war — -Tables of comparative loss,
etc. — Compared with results of Anglo-French struggle,





The war on land generally disastrous — British send great
expedition against New Orleans — Jackson prepares for the
defence of the city— Night attack on the British advance
guard — -Artillery duels — Great battle of January 8, 181 5 —
Slaughtering repulse of the main attack — Rout of the Aineri-
cans on the right bank of the river— Final retreat of the
British — Observations on the character of the troops and
commanders engaged 21 1-260

Appendix 261

Index 299





Strictness of the blockade — Cruise of Rodgers — Cruise of
the Constitution — Her unsuccessful chase of La Pique —
Attack on the Alligator — The Essex captured — The Frolic
captured — -The Peacock captures the Epervier — Commodore
Barney's flotilla — The British in the Chesapeake — The Wasp
captures the Reindeer and sinks the Avon — Cruise and loss
of the Adams — The privateer General Armstrong — The pri-
vateer Prince de Neufch&tel — Loss of the gunboats on Lake
Borgne — Fighting near New Orleans — Summary.

DURING this year the blockade of the Ameri-
can coast was kept up with ever increasing
rigor. The British frigates hovered like
hawks off every seaport that was known to harbor
any fighting craft; they almost invariably went
in couples, to support one another and to lighten,
as far as was possible, the severity of their work.
On the northern coasts, in particular, the intense
cold of the furious winter gales rendered it no easy
task to keep the assigned stations ; the ropes were


2 Naval War of 1 8 1 2

turned into stiff and brittle bars, the hulls were
coated with ice, and many, both of men and offi-
cers, were frost-bitten and crippled. But no stress
of weather could long keep the stubborn and
hardy British from their posts. With ceaseless
vigilance they traversed continually the allotted
cruising grounds, capturing the privateers, harry-
ing the coasters, and keeping the more powerful
ships confined to port ; "no American frigate could
proceed singly to sea without imminent risk of
being crushed by the superior force of the nu-
merous British squadrons." ' But the sloops of
war, commanded by officers as skilful as they were
daring, and manned by as hardy seamen as ever
sailed salt water, could often slip out ; generally,
on some dark night, when a heavy gale was blow-
ing, they would make the attempt under storm
canvas, and with almost invariable success. The
harder the weather, the better was their chance;
once clear of the coast the greatest danger ceased,
though throughout the cruise the most untiring
vigilance was needed. The new sloops that I have
mentioned as being built proved themselves the
best possible vessels for this kind of work; they
were fast enough to escape from most cruisers of
superior force, and were over-matches for any
British flush-decked ship, that is, for anything
below the rank of the frigate-built corvettes of the
Cyane's class. The danger of recapture was too

' Captain Broke's letter of challenge to Captain Lawrence.

Naval War of 1 8 1 2 3

great to permit of the prizes being sent in, so they
were generally destroyed as soon as captured ; and
as the cruising grounds were chosen right in the
track of commerce, the damage done and conster-
nation caused were very great.

Besides the numerous frigates cruising along the
coast in couples or small squadrons, there were
two or three places that were blockaded by a
heavier force. One of these was New London,
before which cruised a squadron under the direc-
tion of Sir Thomas Hardy, in the 74-gun ship
Ramillies. Most of the other cruising squadrons
off the coast contained razees or two-deckers.
The boats of the Hogue, 74, took part in the de-
struction of some coasters and fishing-boats at
Pettipauge in April ; and those of the Superb, 74,
shared in a similar expedition against Wareham
in June.' The command on the coast of North
America was now given to Vice-Admiral Sir Alex-
ander Cochrane. The main British force con-
tinued to lie in the Chesapeake, where about fifty
sail were collected. During the first part of this
year these were under the command of Sir Robert
Barrie, but in May he was relieved by Rear-Ad-
miral Cockburn.'^

The President, 44, Commodore Rodgers, at the
beginning of 18 14 was still out, cruising among
the Barbadoes and West Indies, only making a
few prizes of not much value. She then turned

' James, vi., 474. ^ James, vi., 437.

4 Naval War of 1 812

toward the American coast, striking soundings
near St. Augustine, and thence proceeding north
along the coast to Sandy Hook, which was reached
on February i8th. The Hght was passed in the
night, and shortly afterward several sail were
made out, when the President was at once cleared
for action/ One of these strange sail was the
Loire, 38 (British), Captain Thomas Brown, which
ran down to close the President, unaware of her
force ; but, on discovering her to be a 44, hauled
to the wind and made off/ The President did not
pursue, another frigate and a gun-brig being in
sight/ This rencontre gave rise to nonsensical
boastings on both sides ; one American writer calls
the Loire the Plantagenet, 74; James, on the other
hand, states that the President. ^^diS afraid to en-
gage the 3 8 -gun frigate, and that the only reason
the latter declined the combat was because she
was short of men. The best answer to this is a
quotation from his own work (vol. vi., p. 402), that
"the admiralty had issued an order that no 18-
pounder frigate was voluntarily to engage one of
the 24-pounder frigates of America." Coupling
this order with the results of the combats that
had already taken place between frigates of these
classes, it can always be safely set down as sheer
bravado when any talk is made of an American 44

' Letter of Commodore Rodgers, February 20, 1814.

^ James, vi., 412.

3 Naval Monument, p. 235.

Naval War of 1 812 5

refusing to give battle to a British 38; and it is
even more absurd to say that a British line-of-
battle ship would hesitate for a minute about en-
gaging any frigate.

On January ist, the Constitution, which had
been lying in Boston harbor undergoing complete
repairs, put out to sea under the command of
Captain Charles Stewart. The British 38-gun
frigate Nymphe had been lying before the port,
but she disappeared long before the Constitution
was in condition, in obedience to the order already
mentioned. Captain Stewart ran down toward
the Barbadoes, and on the 14th of February cap-
tured and destroyed the British 14-gun schooner
Picton, with a crew of seventy-five men. After
making a few other prizes and reaching the coast
of Guiana she turned homeward, and on the 23d
of the same month fell in, at the entrance to the
Mona passage, with the British 36-gun frigate
Pique (late French Pallas), Captain Maitland.
The Constitution at once made sail for the Pique,
steering free ' ; the latter at first hauled to the
wind and waited for her antagonist, but when the
latter was still three miles distant she made out
her force and immediately made all sail to escape ;
the Constitution, however, gained steadily till 8
P.M., when the night and thick squally weather
caused her to lose sight of the chase. Captain
Maitland had on board the prohibitory order
« Letter of Captain Stewart, April 8, 1814.

6 Naval War of 1 8i 2

issued by the admiralty/ and acted correctly.
His ship was altogether too light for his antagon^
ist. James, however, is not satisfied with this,
and wishes to prove that both ships were desirous
of avoiding the combat. He says that Captain
Stewart came near enough to count "13 ports and
a bridle on the Pique's main-deck," and "saw at
once that she was of a class inferior to the Guer-
Here or Java" but "thought the Pique's i8's were
24's, and therefore did not make an effort to bring
her to action." He portrays very picturesquely
the grief of the Pique's crew when they find they
are not going to engage ; how they come aft and
request to be taken into action; how Captain
Maitland reads them his instructions, but "fails to
persuade them that there had been any necessity
of issuing them"; and, finally, how the sailors,
overcome by woe and indignation, refuse to take
their supper-time grog, — which was certainly re-
markable. As the Constitution had twice cap-
tured British frigates "with impunity," according
to James himself, is it likely that she would now
shrink from an encounter with a ship which she
"saw at once was of an inferior class" to those
already conquered? Even such abject cowards
as James's Americans would not be guilty of so
stupid an action. Of course, neither Captain
Stewart nor any one else supposed for an instant

» James, vi., 477.

Naval War of 1 812 7

that a 36-gun frigate was armed with 24-pounders.

It is worth while mentioning, as an instance of
how utterly untrustworthy James is in dealing
with American affairs, that he says (p. 476) the
Constitution had now "what the Americans would
call a bad crew," whereas, in her previous battles,
all her men had been "picked." Curiously
enough, this is the exact reverse of the truth.
In no case was an American ship manned with a
'picked' " crew, but the nearest approach to such
was the crew the Constitution carried in this and
the next cruise, when "she probably possessed as
fine a crew as ever manned a frigate. They were
principally New England men, and it has been
said of them that they were almost qualified to
fight the ship without her officers." ' The state-
ment that such men, commanded by one of the
bravest and most skilful captains of our navy,
would shrink from attacking a greatly inferior
foe, is hardly worth while denying; and, fortun-
ately, such denial is needless. Captain Stewart's
account being fully corroborated in the Memoir of
Admiral Durham, written by his nephew. Captain
Murray, London, 1846.

The Constitution arrived off the port of Marble-
head on April 3d, and at 7 a.m. fell in with the
two British 38-gun frigates Junon, Captain Upton,
and Tenedos, Captain Parker. "The American

^ Cooper, ii., 463.

8 Naval War of 1 8i 2

frigate was standing to the westward with the
wind about north by west and bore from the two
British frigates about northwest by west. The
Jimon and Tenedos quickly hauled up in chase,
and the Constitution crowded sail in the direc-
tion of Marblehead. At 9.30, finding the Tenedos
rather gaining upon her, the Constitution started
her water and threw overboard a quantity of pro-
visions and other articles. At 11.30 she hoisted
her colors, and the two British frigates, who were
now dropping slowly in the chase, did the same.
At 1.30 P.M. the Constitution anchored in the har-
bor of Marblehead. Captain Parker was anxious
to follow her into the port, which had no defences ;
but the Tenedos was recalled by a signal from the
Junon." Shortly afterward the Constitution
again put out and reached Boston unmolested.

On January 29, 1814, the small U. S. coasting
schooner Alligator, of 4 guns and 40 men, Sailing-
master R. Basset, was lying at anchor in the
mouth of Stone River, S. C, when a frigate and a
brig were perceived close inshore near the break-
ers. Judging from their motions that they would
attempt to cut him out when it was dark, Mr.
Basset made his preparations accordingly.^ At
half-past seven six boats were observed approach-
ing cautiously under cover of the marsh, with

'James, vi., 479.

^ Letter of Sailing-master Basset, January 31, 1814.

Naval War of 1 812 9

muffled oars; on being hailed they cheered and
opened with boat carronades and musketry, com-
ing on at full speed; whereupon the Alligator cut
her cable and made sail, the wind being light from
the southwest; while the crew opened such a
heavy fire on the assailants, who were then not
thirty yards off, that they stopped the advance
and fell astern. At this moment the Alligator
grounded, but the enemy had suffered so severely
that they made no attempt to renew the attack,
rowing off down stream. On board the Alligator
two men were killed and two wounded, including
the pilot, who was struck down by a grape-shot
while standing at the helm ; and her sails and rig-
ging were much cut. The extent of the enemy's
loss was never known ; next day one of his cutters
was picked up at North Edisto, much injured and
containing the bodies of an officer and a seaman.'
For his skill and gallantry, Mr. Basset was pro-
moted to a lieutenancy, and for a time his exploit
put a complete stop to the cutting-out expedi-
tions along that part of the coast. The Alligator
herself sank in a squall on July ist, but was after-
ward raised and refitted.

It is much to be regretted that it is almost im-
possible to get at the British account of any of
these expeditions which ended successfully fo'r the
Americans ; all such cases are generally ignored by

^ Letter from Commander J. H. Dent, February 21, 1814.

lo Naval War of 1812

the British historians; so that I am obHged to
rely solely upon the accounts of the victors, who,
with the best intentions in the world, could hardly
be perfectly accurate.

At the close of 1813, Captain Porter was still
cruising in the Pacific.

Early in January, the Essex, now with 255 men
aboard, made the South American coast, and on
the 12 th of that month anchored in the harbor of
Valparaiso. She had in company a prize, re-
christened the Essex Junior, with a crew of 60
men, and 20 guns, ten long 6's, and ten 18-pound
carronades. Of course, she could not be used in a
combat with regular cruisers.

On February 8th, the British frigate Phcehe, 36,
Captain James Hilyar, accompanied by the Cherub
18, Captain Thomas Tudor Tucker, the former
carrying 300, and the latter 140, men,' made their
appearance, and apparently proposed to take the
Essex by a coup de main. They hauled into the
harbor on a wind, the Cherub falling to leeward;
while the Phcebe made the port quarters of the
Essex, and then, putting her helm down, luffed
upon her starboard bow, but ten or fifteen feet
distant. Porter's crew were all at quarter, the
powder-boys with slow matches ready to discharge

' They afterward took on board enough men from British
merchant vessels to raise their complements, respectively, to
320 and 180.

Naval War of 1 8 1 2 11

the guns, the boarders standing by, cutlass in
hand, to board in the smoke; everything was
cleared for action on both frigates. Captain Hil-
yar now probably saw that there was no chance of
carrying the Essex by surprise, and, standing on
the after-gun, he inquired after Captain Porter's
health; the latter returned the inquiry, but
warned Hilyar not to fall foul. The British cap-
tain then braced back his yards, remarking that
if he did fall aboard it would be purely acci-
dental. "Well," said Porter, "you have no busi-
ness where you are; if you touch a rope-yam of
this ship I shall board instantly." ' The Phcebe,
in her then position, was completely at the mercy
of the American ships, and Hilyar, greatly agi-
tated, assured Porter that he meant nothing hos-
tile; and the Phoebe backed down, her yards
passing over those of the Essex without touching
a rope, and anchored half a mile astern. Shortly
afterwards the two captains met on shore, when
Hilyar thanked Porter for his behavior, and, on
his inquiry, assured him that after thus owing
his safety to the latter' s forbearance. Porter need
be under no apprehension as to his breaking the

The British ships now began a blockade of the
port. On February 27th, the Phcebe being hove
to close off the port, and the Cherub a league to

' Life of Farragut, p. 33.

12 Naval War of 1812

leeward, the former fired a weather-gun; the
Essex interpreted this as a challenge, took the
crew of the Essex Junior aboard and went out to
attack the British frigate. But the latter did not
await the combat ; she bore up, set her studding-
sails, and ran down to the Cherub. The American
officers were intensely irritated over this, and
American writers have sneered much at " a British
36 refusing combat with an American 32." But
the armaments of the two frigates were so wholly
dissimilar that it is hard to make comparison.
When the fight really took place, the Essex was
so crippled and the water so smooth that the
British ships fought at their own distance ; and as
they had long guns to oppose to Porter's carro-
nades, this really made the Cherub more nearly
suited to contend with the Essex than the latter
was to fight the Phoebe. But when the Essex, in
fairly heavy weather, with the crew of the Essex
Junior aboard, was to windward, the circum-
stances were very different; she carried as many
men and guns as the Phccbe, and in close combat,
or in a hand-to-hand struggle, could probably have
taken her. Still, Hilyar's conduct in avoiding
Porter except when the Cherub was in company
was certainly over-cautious, and very difficult to
explain in a man of his tried courage.

On March 27 th, Porter decided to run out of the
harbor on the first opportunity, so as to draw

Naval War of 1812 13

away his two antagonists in chase, and let the
Essex Junior escape. This plan had to be tried
sooner than was expected. The two vessels were
always ready, the Essex only having her proper
complement of 255 men aboard. On the next
day, the 28th, it came on to blow from the south,
when the Essex parted her port cable and dragged
the starboard anchor to leeward ; so she got under
way, and made sail ; by several trials it had been
found that she was faster than the Phoebe, and
that the Cherub was very slow indeed, so Porter
had little anxiety about his own ship, only fearing
for his consort. The British vessels were close in
with the weathermost point of the bay, but Porter
thought he could weather them, and hauled up
for that purpose. Just as he was rounding the
outermost point, which, if accomplished, would
have secured his safety, a heavy squall struck the
Essex, and, when she was nearly gunwale under,
the main-topmast went by the board. She now
wore and stood in for the harbor, but the wind
had shifted, and on account of her crippled con-
dition she could not gain it; so she bore up and
anchored in a small bay, three miles from Valpar-
aiso, and half a mile from a detached Chilian
battery of one gun, the Essex being within pistol-
shot of the shore.' The Phoebe and Cherub now
bore down upon her, covered with ensigns, union-

' Letter of Captain David Porter, July 3, 18 14.

14 Naval War of 1812

jacks, and motto flags; and it became evident
that Hilyar did not intend to keep his word, as
soon as he saw that Porter was disabled. So the
Essex prepared for action, though there could be
no chance whatever of success. Her flags were
flying from every mast, and everything was made
ready as far as was possible. The attack was
made before springs could be got on her cables.
She was anchored so near the shore as to preclude
the possibility of Captain Hilyar' s passing ahead
of her ' ; so his two ships came cautiously down,
the Cherub taking her position on the starboard
bow of the Essex, and the Phcebe under the latter's
stem. The attack began at 4 p.m.' Some of the
bow-guns of the American frigate bore upon
the Cherub, and, as soon as she found this out, the
sloop ran down and stationed herself near the
Phcebe. The latter had opened with her broadside
of long i8's, from a position in which not one of
Porter's guns could reach her. Three times
springs were got on the cables of the Essex, in
order to bring her round till her broadside bore;
but in each instance they were shot away, as soon
as they were hauled taut. Three long 12's were
got out of the stern-ports, and with these an ani-
mated fire was kept up on the two British ships,

I Letter of Captain James Hilyar. March 30, 1814-
' Mean time. Porter says 3.54; Hilyar a few minutes past
4. The former says the first attack lasted half an hour; the
latter, but ten minutes. I accordingly make it twenty.

Naval War of 1 812 15

the aim being especially to cripple their rigging.
A good many of Porter's crew were killed during
the first five minutes, before he could bring any
guns to bear; but afterward he did not suffer
much, and at 4.20, after a quarter of an hour's
fight between the three long 12's of the Essex and
the whole 36 broadside guns of the PhcEhe and
Cherub, the latter were actually driven off. They
wore, and again began with their long guns ; but,
these producing no visible effect, both of the Brit-
ish ships hauled out of the fight at 4.30. "Hav-
ing lost the use of mainsail, jib, and mainstay,
appearances looked a little inauspicious," writes
Captain Hilyar. But the damages were soon re-
paired, and his two ships stood back for the
crippled foe. Both stationed themselves on her
port quarter, the Phoebe at anchor, with a spring,
firing her broadside, while the Cherub kept under
way, using her long bow-chasers. Their fire was
very destructive, for they were out of reach of the
Essex's carronades, and not one of her long guns
could be brought to bear on them. Porter now
cut his cable, at 5.20, and tried to close with his
antagonists. After many ineffectual efforts, sail
was made. The flying-jib halyards were the only
serviceable ropes uncut. That sail was hoisted,
and the fore-topsail and foresail let fall, though
the want of sheets and tacks rendered them almost
useless. Still the Essex drove down on her assail •

1 6 Naval War of 1812

ants, and for the first time got near enough to
use her carronades ; for a minute or two the firing
was tremendous, but after the first broadside the
Cherub hauled out of the fight in great haste, and
during the remainder of the action confined her-
self to using her bow-guns from a distance. Im-
mediately afterward, the Phcebe also edged off, and
by her superiority of sailing, her foe being now
almost helpless, was enabled to choose her own
distance, and again opened from her long i8's,
out of range of Porter's carronades.' The carnage
on board the Essex had now made her decks
look like shambles. One gun was manned three
times, fifteen men being slain at it; its captain
alone escaped without a wound. There were but